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3D print yourself at Selfridges this Christmas

Give the gift of you this festive season - that is, a 3D printed replica figurine of yourself.

What do you get for that hard-to-buy-for person who already has everything this Christmas? How about a mini-me? By which I mean, a 3D printed replica figurine of yourself.

This festive season iMakr, the world's largest 3D printing store, is opening a pop-up shop in London's Selfridges. The pièce de résistance of the temporary outlet will be the ability to have yourself digitally scanned and printed out as a miniature model.

3D printing - the process of producing an object by depositing layer upon layer of material to build up a whole - is still relatively niche. But its ability to generate custom-designed objects quickly and relatively cheaply has seen it being used (or proposed) for everything from clothing to prosthetic limbs, and of course, pizza in space .

[3D print-on-demand pizza, in space]

iMakr's mission is to bring the 3D printer into the home. From its store in Farringdon, East London, it showcases affordable 3D printers and hosts demonstrations and training sessions in the hope of making the technology more accessible.

Its sister company, My Mini Factory, is an online marketplace of 3D designs which users can upload their own creations to, as well as download free files to print in their own homes (or request iMakr to print for them).

Sylvain Preumont, founder and director of iMakr, says his company is servicing the "third generation" of 3D printing buyers.

"The first generation was industry. They buy (3D printing) machines for rapid prototyping," he explains.

"The second generation was RepRap. They are creative types of people, more technical, into tweaking and tricking.

"And the third generation is now. It's what I would call the general public. People like you and me. They want a machine they can put on their table, that works, and that they can jump straight into and play with.

"We're here to address the needs of the general public in terms of access to 3D printing. The training is not that expensive. The printing is not that expensive. We try to be kind with the community."

Training courses - during which participants create small objects such as a button or Lego brick - cost £29; iMakr printing fees are £10 set-up and then £10 per hour; and the 3D printers themselves start from £699 (with 5 models below £1000). A mini-me will set you back around £150.

"I think 3D printing is definitely coming (to the mainstream)," Mr Preumont says, "And it's coming sooner rather than later."

When I visit the iMakr store I meet mechatronic engineer Pankaj Raut, who helped develop the 3D scanning booth that will be at Selfridges. I step inside the white-walled cubicle, stand on the masking-tape cross at its centre, and await the simultaneous firing of the shutters of the 40 or so cameras positioned at various angles and levels.

There are some limitations to the 3D people printing process - curly hair doesn't come out too well (I am advised to wear mine up), nor do splayed fingers, baggy or dark-coloured clothing. But those are small concessions when considering the result: holding a miniature version of yourself or your loved one in your hand.

I - and everyone I have shown myself to - am fascinated with the result, and many an exclamation has been uttered.

According to the London Science Museum, my mini-me is just one of an estimated 5.2 million 3D objects that have been printed in the UK in past 12 months. Its current exhibition, 3D: printing the future, shares Mr Preumont's belief that the technology is quickly heading towards the mainstream.

The iMakr Selfridges pop-up will be in-situ at the Oxford Street department store from October 18 until at least Christmas, with the option to extend its stay based on public interest.

Mr Preumont is confident that the selection of 3D printers and My Mini Factory objects on offer at Selfridges, as well as designers creating models in real time on a big screen, will "blow people's minds".